Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has just turned himself in – and we may see more headline-name convicts behind bars in the near future as cases like the college admissions scandal wind through the justice system.
When the rich leave their luxury mansions for a spell in the big house, they sometimes turn to specialised consultants to cushion the blow of prison life.
Martha Stewart, Bernie Madoff, NFL players Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress, reality stars Teresa Giudice and Abby Lee Miller. They’re just a few of the celebrities who have reportedly had prison consultants guide them through the justice system.
These advisers can help with the entire process from charging to sentencing to release – reviewing casework, petitioning for perks, taking midnight phone calls from frazzled families.
All this hand-holding comes with price tags ranging from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand to upwards of $100,000 (£75,000).
So what exactly do these prison coaches do when they go all-out for the clients who can afford them?
“Once you go into custody you lose control of your life,” prison consultant Larry Levine tells the BBC.
“When somebody hires me, I can help them take advantage of programmes, let them know what their rights are and what they can do to regain control.”
Mr Levine has been in the business for years, but he also served a decade in all manner of federal prisons across the country.
“I’m not going to tell them what should happen – I’m going to tell them what really happens and why.”
Mr Levine told the BBC he has been hired by individuals involved in the college admissions scam case. Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were among wealthy parents indicted for conspiring to cheat on their children’s exams, or bribing coaches to provide fake athletic scholarships to elite US universities.
Mr Levine’s past clients include a judge accused of stealing money and a government official caught billing her agency to line her own pockets. He estimates that currently, 75% of his clients are white collar criminals and 25% are dealing with narcotics-related charges.
But one thing is the same: “When people come to me, they’re screwed. I do damage control.
“I’m like a cross between a psychologist, a marriage counsellor, a life coach and a priest.”
The US criminal justice system is notoriously opaque, regardless of social status.
A lot of the advising by consultants like Mr Levine for clients across the spectrum focuses on demystifying the myriad steps from the courtroom to prison cell.
Learning terminology, sequence of events, what to expect from different kinds of correctional institutions, how to get into sentence-reduction programmes.
Often, it’s related to what a person can even be charged with – when it’s best to accept a plea deal, or take it to trial.
Some of the consultants contacted by the BBC expressed a distrust of lawyers – a perception that attorneys often miss things, fail to explain options without jargon, or push plea agreements instead of fighting to get charges dropped.
But when it comes to wealthier clients, who are generally armed with ample legal firepower, many are looking instead for a more tailored trial experience.
Consultant Justin Paperny of White Collar Advice says the two families he is working with from the admissions scam case are looking for guidance on how to obtain the best possible sentence.
“Judges want to hear from the defendants, so we help them articulate through their own words why they’re worthy of the shortest sentence,” Mr Paperny tells me.
“We work with them to write their story, create sentencing videos that talk about the responsibility they accept, embracing the reality, identifying with victims.”Continue Reading